With the rosters expanding on September 1st, we give you our choice for the three most likely call-ups to make an impact for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the stretch run.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the heat of the National League Wild card chase, and this race will greatly be impacted by the looming September 1st roster expansion. What is this concept? Well when September 1st hits, the active roster from which teams can use players for Major League games expands from the usual 25-man active roster to the entire 40-man roster. Thus, any player on the 40-man roster for a team on August 31st can play for the Major League team for the rest of the season.
This concept is an intriguing one, and one that not many teams like. Check out this latest article from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, where he explains why some teams don’t like this concept, and gives some suggestions to fix it. In essence, many teams want the September roster expansion shrunk to smaller than 40 players, as not all teams have the same talent level after the 25 guys on the active roster.
But at least for this season, the expanded 40-man roster remains a reality. And it’s a time period where the Pirates can use the depth and strength of their minor league system to give them an advantage over the final month of the season. Which of these potential call-ups could have the biggest impact for the Pirates in their playoff push?
*Remember, only players on the 40-man on August 31st are eligible to be called up. Thus, top prospects in lower levels and other low-level minor leaguers won’t make the cut. For the Pirates current 40-man roster, click here.
Alen Hanson, former top prospect in the Pirates’ system, has seemingly dropped off the face of the planet this season. He was once looked at as the future at second base, then as a potential top utility guy off the bench, and now not much more than a trade chip. Josh Harrison has cemented his role as the starting second baseman, and Adam Frazier is emerging as a great utility player off the bench, leaving Hanson as a guy without a role on the major league club. But once rosters expand, Hanson has a chance to make his name known once again.
Hanson isn’t having the greatest year down at Indianapolis. He’s batting .264/.317/.386 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs, and his average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all below his minor league career numbers, and his RBI total will likely be his lowest total since 2011. However, Hanson can still be a quality player to have coming off the bench. For one, his speed is real. He’s topped 35 steals each of the past two seasons, and he could be used as a pinch runner late in games. For another, Hanson knows that September could be the time to prove himself and put himself back on the map as a future major leaguer. Because if he’s called up and he does next-to-nothing, he could very well be used as a trade chip this winter and be moved away from an organization where he’s spent his entire adult life. He could be playing with some extra fire under him.
Arguably the biggest weakness for the Pirates right now is the backup catcher position. Chris Stewart is rehabbing, but the timetable for his return is a bit of an unknown. Eric Fryer has not be the greatest backstop, and with Francisco Cervelli playing through injuries, a good backup catcher is becoming a priority.
This is where Elias Diaz comes into the picture. Diaz was on the disabled list for much of this season, but he’s back playing for Indianapolis now, and he’s having a decent offensive season. He’s batting .289/.333/.342, but he has just one home run and 16 RBIs. Diaz has never been known for his power, but if he can keep a high average to go with his stellar defense, the Pirates won’t miss Chris Stewart at all.
And that’s all the Pirates really need from their backup catcher at this point in the season: someone who can work well with the pitchers and perform adequately at the plate during the few days that Cervelli will likely take off over the next month. A good backup catcher will be a big addition for the Pirates in the stretch run.
Drew Hutchison‘s name immediately jumps out as an obvious potential September call-up that could really help the Pirates over the next month. But there’s a good reason for this: teams always need pitching help, and after Steven Brault. who is currently on the 25-man roster, and Tyler Glasnow, who is just now working his way back from injury, Hutchison seems like the next pitcher in line should a starter be needed. He could also be a candidate to come out of the pen in long relief. Let’s also keep in mind that one of the reasons Hutchison is even in the minors right now is because the team needs to keep him down until September 1st to gain an extra year of control for him.
Unfortunately, Hutchison hasn’t done well in his time at Triple-A. In his five starts at Indianapolis, he has a 5.40 ERA and has pitched a total of just 26.2 innings in those starts. He’s walked over two batters per start, and his strikeout numbers are way down compared to his career numbers. However, he has major league experience, so I’d trust him over any of the guys after Brault and Glasnow at Indianapolis should a spot start be needed. I also wouldn’t mind seeing him out of the pen; maybe his strikeout numbers would rise when he pitches in shorter outings. He could be better than Juan Nicasio or Jeff Locke at the back-end, and in a blowout game here or there, he’s the pitcher I want to see most that I haven’t seen at the major league level yet this season.
There are of course other players that could help the Pirates out once September 1st hits, but the names above certainly jump off the page at you. But let’s not forget a few other guys that are making a name for themselves down at Indianapolis: Frank Duncan and Trevor Williams have both been dynamite as starters with ERAs under three, and Jason Rogers could be a nice bench bat as a guy with major league experience and power potential. The Pirates have a lot of depth on their 40-man roster, which will be a strength for this team over the next month of the season.
Image Credit – WEBN-TV (Flickr Creative Commons)